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[Image above] Researchers test NASA’s gecko grippers during a microgravity test flight. Credit: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory; YouTube

Geckos are cool.

I mean come on—they can walk on walls, they lick their eyeballs (who needs eyelids?), they have some amazing camouflage, and some species can even eat small birds. 

Jessica told us just last week about some Spiderman-esque and gecko-inspired gloves that allowed a Stanford University engineer to scale a glass wall, and I gushed last summer about the amazing abilities of these little lizards.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab is getting in on the gecko action, too, with news of the development of space-ready gripping tools “that could grapple objects such as orbital debris or defunct satellites that would otherwise be hard to handle.”

“Orbital debris is a serious risk to spacecraft, including the International Space Station,” Aaron Parness, a JPL robotics researcher who is leading the work, says in the press release. “This is definitely a problem we’re going to have to deal with. Our system might one day contribute to a solution.”

Their system—grippers that are outfitted with gecko setae-like structures to confer a great grip—recently underwent a microgravity test flight in NASA’s C-9B parabolic flight aircraft. During the test, the hand-operated grippers successfully grabbed onto a 20-pound cube and a 250-pound researcher outfitted with a vest of spacecraft-material panels.

According to the release, the grippers have now been tested on 30 different spacecraft surfaces and have undergone trials in a space-mimicking thermal vacuum chamber (which exposed the grips to a total vacuum and temperatures down to –76°F).

Watch the grippers grab like a gecko in NASA’s test flight below.

Credit: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory; YouTube